Guest column: An Iowa perspective on the refugee crisis and the UN response

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Between Thanksgiving and the end-of-year holidays lies Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, another date to star on your calendar.  On Dec. 10 this year, the United Nations will launch a year-long campaign to highlight the legacy, relevance, and activism of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in anticipation of its 75th anniversary on Dec. 10, 2023.

This year, to honor the dignity and equality of rights of everyone, as asserted in the UDHR, Johnson County United Nations Association (JCUNA) is hosting an event highlighting the 14th article of UDHR:  the right of everyone to seek asylum from persecution, excluding non-political crimes, in accordance with UN principles and purposes.

The Iowa City Office of Equity and Human Rights, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Refugee and Immigrant Association are partnering with JCUNA to present live and livestreamed a panel discussion on the refugee crisis and refugee rights Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m., in Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

The distinguished panel of Iowans includes Solange Bashige, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Re Moe, a native of Burma and a staff member of EMBARC, an agency serving Burmese refugees in Iowa; Elisabeth Bernal, an immigrant from Mexico and a co-founder of Open Heartland; and Mak Sućeska, once a refugee from Bosnia and now Bureau Chief for the Bureau of Refugee Services, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. Jim Olson, immediate past president of JCUNA, will moderate. Also present, via video, will be a staff member of UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, describing the scale of the current global refugee crisis in which more than 100 million people have been forced by violence or by a changing climate and sometimes by both together to flee their home countries.  Internally displaced persons increase this vast human need yet more. Even as we recognize how the violence in Ukraine has intensified the number of refugees as well as internally displaced persons, and the coming winter makes the crisis there and elsewhere worse still, we should note that the number of global refugees had doubled in the past 10 years, even before the current war in Ukraine began.

Audience members will have opportunities to ask questions and to learn ways that they can address the refugee crisis both globally and locally. Audience members will also join in the Refugee and Immigrant Association’s celebration of two refugees and Iowans: Felicien Nkhulikiye and Immaculee Mukahigiro.

The United Nations 2022 Theme for Human Rights Day 2022 is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.”  Knowing the assaults upon these values, JCUNA is all the more committed to their promise.  We share in the United Nations’ belief that human rights are the bedrock of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and must be the foundation of any claim to sustainable development or a just economy. We share, as well, in their belief that a risk to human rights anywhere is a risk to human rights everywhere. There is much work to be done. There is a role for everyone.

Join us at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Iowa City Public Library, or watch a live stream on city channel 4, to learn more about refugee struggles and accomplishments, as well as opportunities for assistance.  Make commemoration of Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, a part of your end-of-year holiday traditions.

Barbara Eckstein

Barbara Eckstein of Iowa City is president of Johnson County United Nations Association.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: An Iowa perspective on the refugee crisis and the UN response

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